Now it occurs to me that some folks on THIS list might also want to see it. The following expresses some thoughts that will seem familiar to many of you. But I think the distinction between "scholarship" and "science" is still poorly understood.
And it is a crucial distinction, having much to do with why our present civilization has been able to break with dismal habits of the past.
Anyway, it is a bit of a rant. Ignore it, by all means, unless this sort of thing entertains you.
Great Books of the Western World
Further, I will freely admit that St. Johns and the University of Chicago produce fine scholars. (Any well-funded institution that attracts passionate teachers will do the same, whatever their theory.)
But I want to say something about the Enlightenment, which is supposedly the underlying meme of Western Civilization. It took many strange paths. The French branch is a perfect example of what can go wrong. Starting with the radicalism of the French Revolution, it aimed at huge reforms, liberating the individual from domineering institutions like monarchy, aristocracy and clergy.
But it veered off course by returning to the ancient habit of subservience. Having abandoned kings and clergy, the French transferred habitual reverence to a different class of professionals -- elitist scholars.
Though democratic in theory, French society is even today dominated by graduates of the Grand Ecoles who - whether they go into the government bureaucracy, the arts & sciences, or commerce - are considered an elevated order of being. They can do no wrong. Yes, aristocratic status is achieved meritocratically (by test scores) instead of simply inherited. But it still amounts to fostering an ongoing, cohesive elite.
Moreover, the French believe that they are spreading a better/preferred version of the Enlightenment, by emphasizing reason and a European philosophical tradition that began with Plato, more than 2500 years ago. A tradition that was built up through Descartes, Kant, Hegel and so on, through existentialism, and all sorts of other isms. Including those that post-modernists preach in hundreds of dismal humanities departments and those that Leo Strauss preached at the University of Chicago.
(Cautionary note. I livd in Paris for two years and I know full well that all generalizations suck. I know many French people who do NOT think this way. My generalization is about the turn taken broadly by that wing of the Enlightenment.)
The University of Chicago is by far the most European-style university in America, especially with its emphasis on producing “scholars” in a more traditional sense... savants who win point by CITING prior savants. Sages who are thoroughly well-read in classics and grounded in the Platonic tradition, under which Reason is perceived as the opposite of
Freud and Marx (and Ayn Rand, for that matter) were among countless examples of once-promising intellects who got suckered down the ego driven paths of mystical shamanism, emphasizing incantations over experimentation. Guru-worship over the brash criticism of post-docs. Simpleminded "reason" over facing the true complexity of human nature.
In contrast, the Anglo-American Enlightenment, typified by Franklin, Madison, Lincoln, Wilson, Edison and Marshall, is not without idealism. But it is idealism rooted in a worldview that is fundamentally pragmatic.
Your goal is to find practical ways to get the most positive-sum games going for the most people, most of the time. And you do not let dogma stymie you from trying whatever may work, whether it is altering market rules to foster vigorous competitive creativity, or experimental education, or state
intervention to stop millennia of waste by letting children or all races and genders compete on a level
...the one trait responsible for most of our tragedies...
...our propensity for self-deception.
Yes, this was in many ways repetitious of earlier rants... so I'll stop here. There was more. But maybe I'll post it in following commentary.